Cat Behaviour

Tortoiseshells and Their Very Special Tortitude

Tortoiseshell cats are a famous group of cats in the domestic category – and not exactly in a good way. In fact, if you ask any cat lover/owner with some decent knowledge and background of cats, you will most likely get this piece of advice from them if you ask them about what type of cat you should choose as your pet:

“Just don’t pick a tortoiseshell cat. They’d probably have the worst temper amongst all cats.”

This is when you will be puzzled. What is it about tortoiseshells that even cat owners and lovers will caution other people when it comes to buying or adopting one?

What is ‘Tortoiseshell’?

Firstly, let us be clear about something: Tortoiseshell is not a breed. It is a name given based on distinctive colouring of a cat’s fur coat, which is a mixture of almost any colour you can find on a cat’s fur except for white (few or no markings at all).

Such coat colour can be found in many breeds of cats, but they are usually females. This is due to the fact that two X chromosomes are required to produce such a coat colour, and only female cats or male cats with a genetic mutation (having an extra X chromosome, resulting in XXY combination) are able to have such coat patters. Male tortoiseshells do not suffer any health conditions, apart from the fact that they are usually sterile and unable to pass on their genes.

Some people do not like the tortoiseshell coat colouring due to how ‘jumbled’ up the colours may seem, while others may dislike tortoiseshell cats not because of their coat colour, but because of their personalities (which I will share more about further down the post). However, this does not stop them from having their own group of fans (which includes me!), who fondly refer to them as ‘torties’.

In fact, here is a fun fact: Maryland’s official cat is calico cat, which is a white variant of tortoiseshell (and even funnier – the cat is chosen because of the shared colour pattern that the state’s official bird and butterfly have).

Are Tortoiseshell Cats More Aggressive Than Other Cats?

Many people are under the impression that tortoiseshell cats are much more aggressive than other types of cats. Well, I will hesitate to say that it is totally false – I think it really depends on how you define the term ‘aggressive’ over here.

To be more precise, tortoiseshell cats often come across to be really strong-willed and can be very demanding at times (at least this is what most tortoiseshell owners will claim). Also, this comparison only shows when it is compared to cats with other colour coats within the same breed. Tn terms of personality, the breed definitely affects more than the colour of the fur as it is tied to the breed’s history and way of life over the years of evolution.

This strong-willed and demanding attitude in tortoiseshell cats have certainly earned a name for themselves – tortitude. To summarize tortitude in one sentence, it means that your cat will try every and anything that he/she can do in order to achieve his/her goal.

Tortitude and Its Manifestations

Tortitude manifests in many ways, but one of the most commonly observed manifestations is probably having a split personality. Most torties can be really dear at times, but are also really short-tempered and quick to be irritated, making their owners really bewildered and wondering what had just went wrong for them. (While not all torties are like that, most are, and it will be good if you keep this in mind when approaching a tortie – stranger or not).

However, you do not pay the price without getting something back in return. That is a universal law, and in the case of torties, the moment you walk into their hearts, it means unconditional love for you (as long as you do not step over their boundaries, that is). The way they look at you and give you the ‘sight kiss’, the way they come over and rub against your legs asking for your attention, affection, and love, and maybe even the occasional ‘meow’ with a light scratch or tap with their paws to remind you that it is time to serve them their food – all these are worth putting up with their (at times) tortitude.

Also, torties are very possessive of everything – and that includes their owners (or if you want to see through the eyes of a tortie, it is their humans). This may mean that torties will show displeasure when you attempt to do anything that may threaten their things (commonalities are food, bedding and toys), but on the flip side, if you are ‘bullied’ by someone else, they will come to your defense!

Torties are also very curious cats (the saying curiosity kills the cat isn’t a lie – my tortie Monkey loved to explore the area around the stove until her whiskers got singed by the fire on one day!) and their interest will heighten even further if it is something that is related to you.

So don’t be surprised if your tortie is really interested in your shopping bags – he/she is merely ‘inspecting’ what ‘his/her human’ has been up to when you were away from home!

All Cats Are Awesome

Although we have been talking about torties and tortitude in this whole post, do understand and remember that every cat, regardless of their gender, species, and coat colour, is a unique individual just like us. They will display different temperaments and personalities, but it doesn’t make any of them any less awesome.

Therefore, please love your cats as they are, accept and tolerate some of their tempers, and wait for the day when you get to reap the fruitful rewards of their lifelong love and affection.

If you have any questions that you want to ask, anything you wish to clarify, or simply want to express your thoughts and feelings, feel free to leave a comment!

8 thoughts on “Tortoiseshells and Their Very Special Tortitude

  1. I didn’t even know there was a special name for this type of cat coat!  I must say that whatever their temperament, their coats are beautiful.  They have a lot of personality.  I can’t say I would pick or reject a cat because it’s a tortie – all cats have their own personality whether they are tortoiseshell or not. 

    1. Hey Jenny,

      Whether their coats are beautiful or not is subjective – some people don’t really like it, especially in certain countries, but personally, I love them too!

      And of course, all cats have their own personality. It’s really good that you have this in mind because it will help you get the most suitable match when given an array of choices to choose from 🙂


  2. Hi Rachel,

    Honestly, I’m one of those that has no love with tortoiseshell cats, they can turn violate, as they said, they are aggressive.. yea And their mood is unpredictable, it can change within a seconds. though that’s really what made them unique, and the only thing i love about them is only their coat patters and How they don’t easily get sick.

    So, do you recommend keeping them closer to children, Hope it wouldn’t hurt them?

    1. Thanks for sharing about your thoughts on tortoiseshell cats, Bibian!

      While I won’t recommend keeping them close to children, do know that cats in general knows if something within the family needs to be protected – from the way you hover over your child and care for his/her needs. 

      This is why most cats, including tortoiseshells, are very gentle around young children and rarely show their temper even if the young child did something that will normally provoke the cat and invoke an aggressive response. Such tolerance towards young children is still being investigated by interested animal scientists.

      Therefore, it is really up to you whether you want to keep them around to your children. Educating your children on the proper way of handling them and behaving around them is also very important.


  3. Although I don’t have a lot of experience with tortoiseshells, as all of the cats I’ve owned have either been solid colored or tabby cats, I think that this description of tortoiseshells descibes cats in general. People who think that tortoiseshells are unusually bad tempered might just be prejudiced towards them because of their unusual appearance, or maybe superstitions have been built around them. It reminds me of how black cats are considered bad luck in some countries. I’ve also heard of people who think that black dogs are possessed by the devil.   

    1. Hey cpascal,

      Each cat has their own temperament and personality, but I do feel that tortoiseshells are particularly strong-willed when I interact with my own little tortie or with the torties of fellow cat owners as compared to cats of other coat colours. You might want to try owning one next time if you have the chance to experience for yourself if there are any difference.

      Also, you are right that black cats and dogs (even the colour black itself) is associated with something negative for quite a long time in history in certain parts of the world, and it is mainly due to superstitions. I will be addressing this in my next post, so if you’re interested, feel free to visit it and share your knowledge on this matter!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂


  4. Good Morning Rachel,

    I have to start my comment telling you that I am a big cat lover. I live on a farm in the south of Spain since 1981. Having a lot of space I had and still have a lot of cats.

    I would like to tell you Lillys story as it can be seen as the exception of the rule. Many years ago I had a lot of cats, something like 20. One of them was Lilly, a small and shy Tortoiseshell girl. I do not remember if she came walking in or if she was a baby born here. I also had 2 white cats and there I must say they were not nice. They used to pester Lilly and slowly but surely she went to live a bit away from the house. I used to bring her food and then she completely disappeared. 

    Some 3 years later my Mother came to live in her house which had been build next to my farm. Suddenly Lilly was back and adopted my Mother and became her one and only house cat.They had happy 7 years together.

    You are right, all cats are lovely and they all have their own caracter. In 2010 I adopted Sasha who was put out at the gate, he was only 4 weeks old. Now he is a big boy with lovely half long hair. In 2013 I saved little Jasmin from the middle of the road, she also was only 4 weeks old. She is a naughty Senorita and rules the place.

    Regards, Taetske

    1. Thanks for sharing, Taetske!

      It is amazing to hear that you have around 20 cats at any one point of your life – after all, I can’t imagine a house with more than 5 animals, that is the maximum I have ever reached for now.

      A shy tortie with such a soft temperament is quite a rare sight – you must be really lucky to meet one! So far, all the tortoiseshells that I have come across, none are as gentle as your little Lilly. I’m really glad that she get to live in comfort with your mother after she went to live with you.

      I am glad that you are having a happy life with your cats! Cats are really amazing creatures to be with and I hope your life with them will be as good or even better in the future 🙂


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